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Prism vs. Red Dot Sights: The Battle of the Glasses

Prism vs. Red Dot Sights: The Battle of the Glasses [2022]

There is MORE to know about rifles than just pulling the trigger to shoot targets.

For example, I learned about the different scopes and optics and which is best for what situation.

I will help you make your scope learning journey simple and easy.

Let’s dig first into what sight wins in the battle of the glasses. Check out our comparison of prism vs. red dot sights!

But first, it is worth noting that all prism scopes ARE red dots, but they are NOT the same thing.

What Is a Prism Scope?

Prism scope

A prism scope is like using a traditional scope, not the iron sights, but better.

Also known as prismatic scope, this sight has a prism instead of the standard objective lens, which focuses light pass to a specific point.

Since it has fewer lenses than the other sight types, it is also more compact in form.

A prism sight works up to 500 meters with prism scopes. This is with a magnification power of 1x prism to 6x with adjustable bullet drop compensation.

But, you have to note that this is NOT a variable magnification type.

In other words, you can only have a prismatic scope with a fixed magnification of 6x, 5x, 4x, 3x, 2x, or 1x prism.

Most prism scopes only cater to 4 inches of eye relief from the objective lens.

I like having this much eye relief, but I must warn about potential scope bite when using big recoil rifles.

Let’s take Primary Arms SLx MicroPrism Cyclops Gen 2, for example. It has an illuminated and etched reticle and is a contender for the best prism scope.

  • Best in offering different types of reticles
  • Has etched reticle
  • It has a good light transmission for brighter sight picture
  • Recommended for people with astigmatism
  • Suitable for short to medium-range of shooting
  • Not recommended for long-range shooting
  • Only offer fixed magnification power
  • Has narrow eye relief from an objective lens

What Is a Red Dot Sight?

Red dot sight

Red dot sights got their name from the idea that a shooter’s eye can see a red dot at the center focus point of the reticle.

This optic primarily uses red or green Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights to provide better aiming for shooters.

You will see that this red light passes from the source.

The REFLECTED light will then go back to the shooter’s eye via curved mirrors on its lens.

A red dot optic has an illuminated reticle. You can also adjust sight picture brightness according to your situation and satisfaction.

It’s been years since I first picked up a red dot as a beginner, and it’s never failed me yet!

They prove to be one of the quickest target acquisitions for short-range shooting.

Red dots are also easy to navigate, which is why they are best for starters and even in shooting competitions.

  • Long-lasting battery life
  • Effective in wide field and short-range shooting (50-100 meters)
  • Easy and fast target acquisition
  • It can be used with both open eyes
  • Illuminated reticles
  • Not recommended for people with astigmatism (reflex red dot scope)
  • It offers no magnification power

Prism Scope vs. Red Dot Sight: Performance Review

Red dot sight is the collective name for a reflex, prism, and holographic sight.

The only difference between these three is the TECHNOLOGY they use to work.Their function is still the same in providing better aiming for you.

The first two use reflected light technology via LED lights.

In contrast, the last one uses laser and hologram technology to project a sight picture on the scope.

However, let’s focus more on what lies between a prism scope and its mother term, red dot sight.

To avoid confusion, let’s look at this comparison as prismatic sights against its other types of holographic and reflex sights.


Magnification icon

Know the situation first before buying prism scopes with specific magnification power.

Magnification is the power of your scope to make the target larger and closer to your sight.

As mentioned above, prism optics do NOT offer variable magnification.

You must first check the distance and environment to know the correct magnification.

If it belongs to 100-200 yards, you should go for a LOW magnification power of 4x, 3x, 2x, or 1x prism.

The same as going for prism sights with 5x magnification for 500 yards of shooting.

This is different from red dot sights. Both holographic and reflex sights do not offer magnification for their users.

You will just rely on the glass clarity and illuminated reticle.

The same goes with a red dot in the middle and other more standard setups to aim at the target.

A prism scope is FIXED in magnification.

But, it is better to have one compared to having an iron scope or not having any magnification at all.

WINNER: Prism Sights

Eye Relief

Eye relief icon

The bigger the gun, the more eye box relief you need.

Eye relief is the distance of your eye to the ocular lens of your scope.

This is the space for your eye to be safe from gun recoil—the power to push back after firing.

In this category, red dot sights are the CLEAR winner. 

Whether you choose a holographic or reflex sight, they both have UNLIMITED eye relief.

On the other hand, going for a prism scope will make you vulnerable to scope bites because prismatic sights only offer 2-4 inches of eye relief.

I wouldn’t recommend prism sights for big guns since they also have more recoil power.

Thus, you should know your gun before looking for the right rifle scope.

WINNER: Red Dot Sight

Battery Life

Battery icon

You don’t want to waste time looking at the target with a dead rifle scope in the middle of a forest.

Red dot sights are balanced in this category.

Reflex sights have a long battery life, which contrasts with holographic sights having a short one.

Specifically, reflex sights can last up to 50,000 hours or about five years of non-stop usage.

In comparison, holographic sights can work for up to 600 hours only.

An etched reticle helps the shooter target accurately without relying on windage or elevation customization. 

It also comes with good coatings that make it more durable.

NOTE: A glass reticle like those used on a red dot sight is cheaper than a prismatic scope with an etched reticle.

WINNER: Prism Sight


Accuracy icon

I use red dot sights to miss lesser bullets when shooting, regardless of what type.

Sights are present to help shooters become accurate. In other words, they are used to hit as close as possible to the target point.

In this category, all the sights being compared are accurate. But, you should always consider the specific distance.

Red dot sights have fast focus eyepieces in short and longer shooting ranges. They all provide clear aid in shooting without optical distortion.

A reflex red dot sight is best for sighting devices at a short range or 50-100 yards. In comparison, holographic red dots are best at 300 yards and more.

Prism scopes also have fast target acquisition for short to medium distances. It is best to use it at 100-300 meters.

Other red dots have a speed advantage at short and longer shooting ranges.



Durability icon

Durability in scopes does not only go with the capability to hold gun recoil. 

It also accompanies different elements in forests, open fields, or other environments. The same is true with the shooting activity you will go for.

Prism scopes and the other red dot sights are DURABLE! However, the former has a slight advantage in this category.

A prism scope has etched reticle with glass coatings making it durable and not battery-dependent.

It is also designed to be tubular, making it RESISTANT from dust, water, and other harmful elements for your lens.

Other red dots also have a tubular shape, but they mostly RELY on glass lenses—why reflex sights are built with solid window sides for their exposed beam types.

Overall, all these sights have forms and can be accompanied by accessories to make them more durable.

But prism scopes take a win in a slight standard setup difference.

WINNER: Prism Scopes


Pricing icon

You might go for reflex sights for being the CHEAPEST.

But, you can also push for holographic sights as they are expensive but with higher specs.

The former also has various competitions where you can compare prices based on the specs you are looking for at a specific budget—Primary Arms, Aimpoint, Holosun, and more.

It is a different story for holographic sights since it is the most expensive rifle scope.

Aside from its high technology, it only has two manufacturers—EOTech and Vortex Optics.

Thus, red dots provide a wide range of prices for you.

Giving more price options gives red dots an upper hand, which is MORE than a prism optic with only one specific price range.

Thus, you don’t need to go as far as iron sights. A red dot sight is undoubtedly available for any budget you have!

WINNER: Red Dot Sight

Summary of the Comparison of Features

Overall, red dots will win over prism scopes even though the latter takes some wins.

Prism scopes go with reflex and holographic sights under the banner of red dots.

What you can get from the first type is like experiencing an overall red dot sight.

Regardless of what red dot sight you choose, either is sure to satisfy your needs!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there things in this comparison that are still not clear? It may be more confusing than understanding iron sights, but it’s worth it.

Check more details below for other relevant questions about prism vs. red dot sights!

What Is a Holographic Sight?

Although holographic sights fall under red dots, they work via a different technology.

A red dot sight reticle uses LED lights to project bullet drop when shooting. On the other hand, a holographic sight uses lasers to project the target image for shooters.

This tubular shape sight is the BEST for a long-range shooter among the three red dot optic types. It is also suitable for moving targets and people with eye problems.

Holographic sights also have a forgiving eye box which is why they can be used for bigger rifles.

Since it offers more specs than the other two, a holographic sight also has the most EXPENSIVE tag.

The same is true for having the least battery life, as it consumes more energy to function.

There are ONLY two companies that manufacture holographic sights. This may have also contributed to its higher price range.

What Are Reflex Sights?

When you say red dot sight, a reflex sight is almost always the first to come to mind.

Like red dots, reflex sights also work via LED lights reflected in a curved semi-transparent mirror.

This will reach the shooter’s eyes while seeing the target’s image through the thin glass.

Other than that, reflex sights come with either a closed or open rectangular window. This is why you can also see a tube-like reflex sight available for sale.

The difference mainly focuses on usage in different environments. Closed reflex sights help secure reticles from dust, water, and other elements, which is not applicable in open ones.

This one is for you if you go for light and small sights for faster short-range aiming. Reflector sights are also the CHEAPEST, with a battery of 50,000 hours.

Which is Better for Night Hunting?

Regarding brightness comparison, prism scopes are one of the BEST. It can provide a good sight picture even in ambient light conditions.

An anti-reflective coating can be used to maximize light reflection in dark areas.

But, all sights in this article are compatible with night vision devices. 

This is regardless you have or you are planning to have a prism scope or the other red dots sights.

You can guarantee night vision compatibility as non-compatibility in a reflex, holographic, or prism scope.

Is a Prism Sight Better for Astigmatism?

Prism scopes help minimize distortion, which makes them better for those with astigmatism.

Since prism scopes do not use LED lights for the reticle, there is no refraction of light, meaning there is less distortion.

How Far Can You Shoot With a Prism Sight?

A prism sight can shoot up to 600 yards. The general rule of thumb is 1x magnification per 100 yards.

Since prism scopes are at fixed magnification, there are only those from 1x to 6x magnification available.

Final Verdict: Which Is Better to Use?

Two armed soldiers

All prism scopes are red dot sights. But not all red dots are prism scopes.

Thus, choosing a sight should depend on your shooting situation. 

This includes your guns, such as having semi-automatic rifles, shooting environment, and time of the day.

  • Choose a prism scope if you are looking for a sight for short to MEDIUM shooting. Go for a duplex reticle for general purposes or a bullet drop compensator reticle for mid-range shooting.
  • The same is true if you don’t want to mind the battery that much. A prism scope has an etched reticle but low eye box relief from the scope’s ocular lens.

If not, you should choose a DIFFERENT red dot sight—either a reflex or holographic.

The former is high battery and short-range shooting at the lowest price. The latter is for longer ranges, better technology, and higher specs.

The bottom line is a prism scope is still a red dot sight. Thus, whatever advantage it has also called for a specific option under the banner of red dots.

Use Prism Scopes If…

  • You are going for short to medium-range shooting (100-300 yards)
  • You are fine with fixed magnifications (1x prism – 6x)
  • You don’t want to rely much on battery
  • You have astigmatism

Use Red Dots If…

  • You are going for a short range for reflex (50-100 yards)
  • You are going for a longer range for holographic sight (300 yards and more)
  • You want a cheaper choice for the reflex sigh
  • You have the budget for expensive holographic sight for better specs


That’s a wrap on this prism vs red dot sight comparison guide!

Comparing a prism scope vs. a red dot sight is like a person compared to his parent.

You might see differences in these rifle scopes, but you can still see several similarities. Thus, knowing what type is best for a specific hunting or shooting context is still best.

At the end of the day, whether you are a beginner or a professional, you use sights for a similar purpose.

You will use a reflex, prism, or holographic sight to aim better and hit the target point accurately!

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